Georgia governor signs sweeping mental health bill into law

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday signed into law a bill aimed at bolstering the state’s dismal mental health care system by pressuring private insurers to improve coverage for mental health conditions.

HB 1013 — championed by Republican House Speaker David Ralston — also requires publicly funded insurance programs to spend more on patient care and authorizes loan forgiveness for people studying to become mental health professionals. It is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars in additional state funding each year.

“Today, we fulfill Speaker Ralston’s vision and that of so many others who have partnered for this accomplishment to bring hope to the many families across Georgia who have a loved one suffering from some form of mental or behavioral challenge,” Kemp said at the state Capitol.

Kemp was joined by Ralston, mental health advocates and lawmakers from both parties.

“Georgia is making a transformational commitment to improving mental health care,” Ralston said.

He cited HB 1013 as well as nearly $200 million in additional funding for the state’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities in the 2023 budget.

Georgia has experienced a spike in substance abuse and rural suicides and consistently ranks near the bottom of U.S. states for access to mental health care.

A key component of the new law aims to ensure private insurers abide by long-existing federal requirements that they provide the same level of benefits for mental health disorders as they do for physical illness. Under the new law, insurers will have to submit data to the state about their compliance with the parity requirement.

Another component of the law allows police officers to take someone they believe is in need of mental health treatment to an emergency facility for evaluation.

The bill faced vocal opposition after sailing through the state House. Critics raised concerns it would create a pathway to taking away guns of people diagnosed with mental illness and raise insurance premiums for benefits they did not desire.

The Senate removed language that required health insurers to cover treatment for mental health or substance abuse disorders. It also required police officers to get a physician’s OK to take someone for evaluation.

The bill flew to final passage with a 54-0 vote in the Senate and a 166-0 vote in the House.

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